- What Is Berberine?
- From History Into the Labs
- Metabolic Damage
- Berberine Metabolic Health Benefits
- But That’s Not All…
- Is Berberine Safe?
What Is Berberine?
“Berbewhat?” – you ask with head tilted and eyebrows raised in peaked interest.
Berberine is a bitter-tasting yellow powder derived from various plant sources. “So what? It’s a yellow thing in plants!” – the skeptical voice of a somewhat careful, have-been-dissapointed-before adult lowers your eyebrow arc. Well, the “yellow thing” seems to be a fine runner for a master switch of metabolic health – meaning weight loss (the healthy, sustainable way), better regulation of blood glucose, more energy, better mood, improved gut health… Basically, a happier, healthier you.
Now, go sit that rowdy voice down in a faraway corner of your mind as we readjust our learning hats.
From History Into the Labs
A long, long time ago, far before the first microscope peered into the hidden layers of reality or a single chemist sported its fancy white coat – traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda knew. They may not have known why berberine worked but they used it in a wide variety of applications to enhance well-being – including treating inflammation, diarrhea, and infections, and as heart health support.
Applied for thousands of years under the flag of tradition, berberine enters center stage once more – just in the nick of time – amid global metabolic health troubles.
Capitalism successfully grew the availability of foods we’d never have access to, while modern agriculture practices obliterated the notion of seasonal produce. But it also fed the growing population. Sugar – once used as a condiment – became a staple in processed food, conveniently getting us addicted while extending shelf life. But bad food is better than none in food deserts. The diseases of excess have spilled out into the masses.
Today diabetes, cancer, infertility, gastrointestinal issues, cardio-vascular degradation, early onset dementia, and Alzheimer’s suck the health system’s resources, treating conditions that could have largely been prevented by education and lifestyle interventions. Could it be that food – supposed to serve as medicine, as Hippocrates (yes, the medical oath guy) put it – became a business of selling semblances of food? Perhaps.
Berberine Metabolic Health Benefits
In addition to its original form derived from plants, today we can produce it via chemical synthesis as chloride and sulfate salts of berberine – more soluble than the natural form.
Berberine has a staggering span of health benefits – directly and indirectly linked to metabolic processes. Here is the list of metabolic dysfunctions berberine can help with:
1. Insulin Resistance
means there is so much insulin floating in the bloodstream that your cells go deaf to the “noise” and cannot hear the insulin signal anymore. This means your blood sugar may look normal but could be kept in check by several times more insulin than normal. Berberine helps reduce fasting glucose (baseline blood glucose when you don’t eat for a while) as well as hemoglobin A1C (measuring average blood sugar levels through the past 3 months), reducing the need for enormous insulin floods and making cells more sensitive to its effects – akin to how you would start listening to someone again once they stopped screaming at you.
aka high blood pressure for the layman, is a silent danger. Berberine blood pressure lowering effects are due to the ability to dilate blood vessels, allowing unrestricted blood flow and relaxing smooth muscles of blood vessels to be more adaptable and less rigid.
3. High Cholesterol
leads to hardening of the arteries, and pieces of the accumulated plaque can break off, causing a heart attack or a stroke. Berberine decreases total cholesterol, dangerous LDL (low-density lipoprotein, or “bad” cholesterol”) particles, and triglycerides while increasing the beneficial HDL (high-density lipoprotein cholesterol), which escorts the LDL-s out of the body via the liver.
4. Yeast and Candida Overgrowth
is a common occurrence today due to the mass use of oral antibiotics and those from commercially farmed animals. Once the non-discriminatory antibiotics (literal translation of “anti-bios” is “against life”) decimate the beneficial bacteria in our gut and mucus membranes, unwanted cultures are all set up to take over. Berberine jumps in and skillfully attacks the cell membranes of the usurpers, controlling the populations and allowing the body to reassert the balance. More and more studies are accumulating the case for berberine, exploring the application on treatment-resistant microbes such as Staphylococcus aureus, neurovirulent Escherichia coli, H1NI type A flu virus, and HIV.
5. PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome)
One of the most prevalent syndromes causing female infertility today, PCOS is affected by blood sugar and insulin levels and is sometimes referred to as type 2 diabetes of the ovaries. Berberine works by diminishing the insulin resistance accompanying/causing PCOS and helping with menstrual irregularity and higher ovulation rates. It was shown to be superior to an often-used diabetes type 2 medication – metformin – resulting in a higher number of live births and fewer side effects than metformin.
6. SIBO (Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth)
is also basically an inside turf war where gangs of harmful bacteria overpower the useful ones and is also the leading cause of IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). Berberine has been shown to match or even surpass SIBO medications by efficacy.
The berberine weight loss effect is due to targeting the entire metabolic syndrome – a cluster of obesity, high blood pressure, high blood triglycerides, low levels of HDL cholesterol, and insulin resistance – and leptin (satiety hormone) irregularities. Once we get the body’s reaction to glucose and accompanying insulin response under control, the body can get to the energy stored in fat cells, finally not being overwhelmed by insulin’s signal to keep storing more. We’re either burning or storing. We can’t do both at the same time.
But That’s Not All…
No, not a steak knife in sight, but an even longer list of berberine’s health benefits. The bottom of its bag of tricks seems to go straight to the center of vitality, proving its worth to healthy longevity.
The contemporary food industry and a diet saturated with highly processed grains and sugars mean we’re making foie gras out of our liver. The duck or goose is force-fed to get that fatty liver. We don’t need to be; we just get addicted.
An acronym of the Non-alcoholic fatty Liver Disease, NAFLD is the most common form of liver damage today. Just 50-60 or so years ago, things were quite straightforward – you saw liver damage and presumed chronic alcohol abuse. Today, we see 5-year-olds with NAFLD. How can that be? They don’t drink. Because sugar – more accurately, fructose – is metabolized like alcohol, as Dr. Robert Lustig, an American pediatric endocrinologist, professor, and author, explains. The only difference is that in alcoholic fermentation, the microorganisms did the first step for us. White table sugar (sucrose) consists of half glucose and half fructose. Not ideal, but the body can tolerate a few teaspoons of this a day, just like you could be ok with an occasional glass of wine. But sugar is everywhere, and, as far as the liver is concerned, it’s like being plastered – all. the. time! Does high-fructose corn syrup ring a bell?
Berberine has been shown to have hepatoprotective effects in addition to stopping NAFLD progression in animal models and human studies – improving insulin sensitivity, regulation of the gut environment, improving cell mitochondrial function, and lowering oxidative stress. It also helps fight liver inflammation by inducing autophagy (deliberate destruction and recycling of old, defective, non-functioning cells and cell organelles), making it a helpful addition to treatments for fatty liver and other diabetes-related liver damage.
The heart is the thing that makes it all… well, tick (Applause for the super lame joke, thank you, thank you), regardless if it’s the heart of the home, a relationship, company, or the actual physical organ dancing in your chest. Berberine and its derivatives can also help keep this life-sustaining rhythm, ensuring the longevity, health, and strength of the tireless muscle and protecting heart health.
In essence, it is an inflammation that got out of the body’s control and it can hit a single organ, organ system, or the whole body. Some level of inflammation is a normal response to being alive and interacting with your non-sterile environment (Ewwww germs! No. We need some germs.) You need controlled inflammation to respond to a pathogen attack, damage, or wound, and its job is to heal or defend as fast as possible. Have you ever noticed the puffy red area around a cut? This is controlled inflammation that is the foundation of health.
But sometimes things go wrong. Sepsis is a systemic inflammation caused by an incorrect immunological response to the infection. Sepsis in the gut develops primarily due to lipopolysaccharides (LPS) gone rogue – behaving like toxins. Berberine comes in swinging with its anti-inflammatory sword, diminishing the LPS-induced gut damage and allowing for a far better outcome.
Bone Density, Mental Health, and Lung Damage
If the body experiences wear & tear, good for you. It means it was well lived in and enjoyed. But as the decades fly by and we turn the appearance of every new wrinkle into a season-finale drama level, what we can’t see is far more worth the attention. We go straight to the bone – loss of bone density. This may lead to osteoporosis – the hollow, brittle bones of old age, but Berberine joins the party to help incorporate minerals into bone tissue, improving their density.
We are hyper-aware of, even obsessive about, our body and health and will consult Dr. Google if anything unusual pops up amidst our bodily functions, but mental health takes a beating as well by the sole fact of being alive. Berberine helps promote optimal mental health, especially as we age, by improving the release and synthesis of key chemicals and neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, and noradrenaline. These are vital to healthy brain function, mood regulation, and the spiteful pluck even during the autumn of our lives.
Another good news is that berberine’s anti-inflammatory traits alleviate the harm of autodestructive road trips into smoking. Treating with berberine before smoking has a protective function and reduces the instances of acute lung damage caused by cigarette smoke.
Is Berberine Safe?
Shorthand – yes.
Berberine is safe for most adults in doses up to 1.5 grams daily for 6 months. Side effects of berberine are rare and far in between and mainly refer to temporary digestive discomfort (diarrhea, constipation, gas, and upset stomach).
Is berberine bad for kidneys and can berberine damage the liver? It actually has a protective function, although its safety for long-term use in extreme doses cannot be officially confirmed – as with all things in life, there are nuances. Berberine has a palpable effect on the body’s physiology and can interact with medications such as antibiotics, antifungals, anticoagulants, antidiabetic drugs, or blood pressure-lowering medication. We always advise consulting with your doctor before introducing a new and powerful supplement.
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding (BTW, congratulations), you should not take berberine. This is due to its effect on insulin, as pregnancy (and puberty) are the only periods of life where insulin resistance has its purpose of rapid growth or growing of another being inside us.
With the zestful dedication of this team of insatiable (applicable to good food and reliable information) geeky learners, we invite you to bio-hack the patootie out of this life thing, considering berberine as a herbal super supplement – able to help with anything from insulin resistance, PCOS, yeast, and bacterial overgrowth, to mental & heart health, and the girth of your waistline.